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On Saturn’s Moon Titan, Plentiful Lakeside Views, But With Liquid Methane

Scientists on Monday provided the most comprehensive look to date at one of the solar system’s most exotic features: prime lakeside property in the northern polar region of Saturn’s moon Titan — if you like lakes made of stuff like liquid methane.

Using data obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft before that mission ended in 2017 with a deliberate plunge into Saturn, the scientists found that some of frigid Titan’s lakes of liquid hydrocarbons in this region are surprisingly deep while others may be shallow and seasonal.

Titan and Earth are the solar system’s two places with standing bodies of liquid on the surface. Titan boasts lakes, rivers and seas of hydrocarbons: compounds of hydrogen and carbon like those that are the main components of petroleum and natural gas.

The researchers described land forms akin to mesas towering above the nearby landscape, topped with liquid lakes more than 300 feet (100 meters) deep comprised mainly of methane. The scientists suspect the lakes formed when surrounding bedrock chemically dissolved and collapsed, a process that occurs with a certain type of lake on Earth.

The scientists also described “phantom lakes” that during wintertime appeared to be wide but shallow ponds — perhaps only a few inches (cm) deep — but evaporated or drained into the surface by springtime, a process taking seven years on Titan.

The findings represented further evidence about Titan’s hydrological cycle, with liquid hydrocarbons raining down from clouds, flowing across its surface and evaporating back into the sky. This is comparable to Earth’s water cycle.

Because of Titan’s complex chemistry and distinctive environments, scientists suspect it potentially could harbor life, in particular in its subsurface ocean of water, but possibly in the surface bodies of liquid hydrocarbons.

“Titan is a very fascinating object in the solar system, and every time we look carefully at the data we find out something new,” California Institute of Technology planetary scientist Marco Mastrogiuseppe said.

Titan, with a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 km), is the solar system’s second largest moon, behind only Jupiter’s Ganymede. It is bigger than the planet Mercury.

“Titan is the most Earth-like body in the solar system. It has lakes, canyons, rivers, dune fields of organic sand particles about the same size as silica sand grains on Earth,” Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory planetary scientist Shannon MacKenzie said.

The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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Economy & business
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Turkey: Buying Russian Defense System Should Not Trigger US Sanctions

Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense missile system should not trigger U.S. sanctions because Ankara is not an adversary of Washington and remains committed to the NATO alliance, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Monday.

Speaking at a U.S.-Turkey conference in Washington amid rising tensions between the two NATO allies over Ankara’s plan to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, Akar adopted a relatively conciliatory tone and urged to resolve issues via dialogue.

“Turkey is clearly not an adversary of the United States,” Akar said and added that, therefore, its procurement of the S-400 system should not be considered within the scope of U.S. sanctions designed to target America’s enemies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington had told Ankara it could face retribution for buying the S-400s under a sanctions law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA).

“This procurement decision does not signify a change in Turkey’s course. I’d like to reiterate strongly that there is no change in Turkey’s commitment to NATO,” Akar said.

The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin. 

Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

In early April, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to potentially blocking the delivery of the jet to the NATO ally.

Akar said Turkey was puzzled by the move and expected U.S. and other partners in the program to fulfill their obligations.

“We firmly believe that linking the S-400 to the F-35 project is unfortunate. … We are one of the investors and partners and not just a buyer. We have invested over $1 billion … and fulfilled all our obligations,” he said.

Akar repeated Turkey’s offer to hold technical talks with the United States to address “technical concerns” over the S-400 purchase.

Turkey is also assessing a renewed offer from the United States to buy Patriot missile defense systems, Akar added.

“Recently, we received the restated offer for the Patriots. This offer is now on the table, we are studying it carefully,” he said.

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Tackles Visitors’ Color Blindness

The vibrant colors and hues that make up Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings soon will be on full display for color blind visitors

The vibrant colors and hues in Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings soon will be on full display for color blind visitors.

The Santa Fe museum announced Monday it’s teaming up with California-based EnChroma to expand the gallery experience through special glasses.

Starting May 3, visitors with red-green color blindness can borrow glasses to see O’Keeffe’s work in the way that she intended. 

One of the museum’s curators, Katrina Stacy, says O’Keeffe in her later years developed visual impairment from macular degeneration and turned her attention to sculpture. 

Stacy says the project with EnChroma has ties to that part of the artist’s story.

EnChroma co-founder Andrew Schmeder says O’Keeffe juxtaposed colors from nature in ways that evoked emotion and seeing that relationship between colors has been challenging for people with color blindness.

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Science & Health
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Study Weighs Americans’ Interest in Birds

Whooping cranes, common ravens and peregrine falcons are among the celebrities of the sky in the eyes of Americans, even those who’ve never laid eyes them.

The ruffed grouse or purple martin? They’re like friends you might chat with. The wrentit and the Abert’s towhee are like the neighbors you don’t talk to much. As for the Hammond’s flycatcher and the Brewer’s sparrow, Americans don’t care much about them at all.

That’s the word from a new study that aimed to define “a range of relationships between people and birds” across the United States, said Justin Schuetz, one of the authors.

Results appear in a paper released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Schuetz, a biologist and independent researcher in Bath, Maine, did the work with Alison Johnston, who’s affiliated with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

The project included studying Google searches performed from 2008 to 2017 to learn about what Americans think about 621 bird species. Researchers knew where each search came from. They also knew the natural range of each species and how often it is sighted in specific places, based on a national database.

One key question was whether the Google data revealed more interest in each species than one would expect in various locations, based on how often it is sighted in those places. Another question was how much the interest in each species was limited to its natural range, or spilled out beyond it.

So birds in the “celebrity” category are those that attracted more Google attention than one would expect from how often they’re seen, and whose popularity extended outside of their natural range. They have “a reputation beyond where they live,” Schuetz explained.

Next came the “friends or enemies” category, which included species that get more Google attention than expected, but mostly in the states where they live. As with the other categories, the researchers couldn’t tell whether the searchers’ opinions of these familiar birds were positive or negative.

Then came birds classified as “neighbors,” whose few Google searches were confined to where they live. Finally there were the “strangers,” birds that got little Google interest anywhere.

The research also turned up other insights into what makes a species popular. Bigger bodies, colorful plumage and regular visits to birdfeeders helped. Species that served as mascots for professional sports teams reached celebrity status, but it wasn’t clear whether being a mascot encouraged popularity or the other way around.

The results also turned up some surprises. “People seem to have an inordinate fascination with owls we couldn’t account for entirely in our analysis,” Schuetz said.

Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, called the study “a fascinating framework for trying to understand how people are relating to birds.”

“I hope they’re able to use it to help people appreciate what’s right in their own backyard,” he said. “Most of us just aren’t keyed in to what is literally at our doorstep.”

David Ringer, chief network officer for the National Audubon Society, also found the work interesting.

“It’s great to see how much we know and love some species, and it’s provocative to see how much we still have to discover,” he wrote in an email. “I hope that many bird strangers' will becomefriends,’ and neighbors' will turn intocelebrities.”‘

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Arts & Entertainment
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Trump to Present Presidential Medal of Honor to Tiger Woods

President Donald Trump says he will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to legendary golfer Tiger Woods, who just captured his fifth Masters championship.It was his 15th major professional victory after an 11-year drought from winning the sport’s biggest tournaments.

Trump tweeted that he spoke to Woods to “congratulate him on the great victory.”

Woods shot a 2 under par 70 on a drizzly day at the Augusta National Golf Club in the southern U.S. state of Georgia to finish 13 under par for the tournament, a shot better than three other American golfers, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele.

Woods, with a big smile on his face, thrust both arms into the air as he holed his final putt on the 18th green for a bogey. He hugged his mother, Kultida Woods, his two children, daughter Sam and son Charlie, and other well-wishers as he headed to the clubhouse to sign his scorecard.

At 43, Woods is the oldest Masters champion since Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1986 Masters at 46. The 79-year-old Nicklaus holds the record for most major golf championships with 18, with Woods now trailing the mark by three.

With Woods’ dearth of recent major championships, the Nicklaus mark appeared increasingly distant for the aging Woods. The last 11 years have marked a period of personal turmoil for Woods as he underwent several surgeries to repair back injuries that inhibited his performance or stopped him from playing at all. He also was divorced from his wife, Elin Nordegren, after a string of his highly publicized extramarital affairs.

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HBO Looks Beyond ‘Game of Thrones,’ Maybe Back to a Prequel

When the last drop — or gallon — of blood is shed and an exultant victor has ascended to the Iron Throne, viewers may be split over how HBO’s fantasy saga ended but they’ll be joined in deprivation.

“What do you do without `Game of Thrones?”‘ will be the lament heard after the May 19 finale, said media analyst Larry Gerbrandt. The question is even more critical to the pay-cable channel, which soared on dragon’s wings with its hugely popular, eight-season adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels.

Keeping subscribers on board means more than another hit, even one as globally dazzling as “Game of Thrones” proved to be. But it’s where HBO can start to protect its brand and position, observers say, an effort both demanded and compounded by an increasingly congested small-screen landscape and the expectations of the channel’s corporate owner since 2016, AT&T.

“I think they need a prestige show on this level to remain HBO,” Bill Carter, a media analyst for CNN and former reporter for The New York Times. But “more than ever, it’s really hard to find a hit show and to break through in this marketplace.”

The channel is well into the hunt for a worthy successor, with one possibility an untitled prequel to “Game of Thrones” created by Martin and Jane Goldman and starring Naomi Watts. Set to begin shooting a pilot in June, it’s among several potential “Thrones” spinoffs being weighed, with discussions at HBO about “how many is too many,” said programming chief Casey Bloys.

“We have high hopes” for the pilot, he said. “But I want to be clear, nobody is going into this thinking that we’re going to do a prequel and all of a sudden everybody who automatically watched `Game of Thrones’ is going to watch this. … It’ll have a different feel and different rhythm. We’re not trying to do the same show again.”

That begs the question of what more HBO has to offer, he said. During a period in which “Game of Thrones” was off the air for scheduling reasons, series including “Westworld,” “Sharp Objects” and “Barry” proved strong draws, Bloys said.

“I’m not going to argue that we won’t miss `Game of Thrones.’ It’s been a fantastic show for us, but life does go on,” he said. He points to a deep bench of returnees, including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon’s “Big Little Lies,” and newcomers including the graphic novel-based “Watchmen” from “Lost” producer Damon Lindelof. One marquee series that’s also in its final season: the much-admired comedy “Veep,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

HBO, which launched in 1972 and whose cachet has long justified the boastful slogan, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO,” has reached this crossroads before. At the turn of the century, pop-culture sensations “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” boosted the channel’s visibility and subscribers and made it a serious player for prestige awards — including cable’s first-ever Emmys for best drama and comedy series. After the shows wrapped, the channel moved nimbly on with audience-pleasers including “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.”

But that was then, and this is the time of streaming — or, in shorthand, Netflix, along with a growing host of others including Amazon and Hulu — and a shoulder-bumping rush for stars and showmakers to churn out more and more fare for outlets already awash in programming.

HBO, no longer a singular alternative to staid broadcast networks, also got new corporate ownership when AT&T bought its parent company, Time Warner. HBO recently saw the exit of its chief executive, Richard Plepler, who had been with the channel for nearly 30 years and guided it to “Game of Thrones” glory.

With AT&T’s resources, HBO has stepped up production and will see a 50% increase in the number of original program hours this year, Bloys said, arguing that volume doesn’t preclude high quality: “There’s nothing in 2019 that we’re putting on the air because we’re trying to hit an hour count. … We haven’t lowered any of our standards to reach a certain level of programming” and there is no pressure to do otherwise from WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, he said.

Subscribers ultimately will decide whether they think the shows are what they want. But expanding the pipeline is unavoidable, said Tuna Amobi, a media and entertainment analyst with investment firm CFRA.

“It’s a very different competitive landscape for HBO than it was when they launched `Game of Thrones,’ and they realize that. That’s why you see them ratcheting up their investments in their programming,” Amobi said. Also key is how HBO’s online platform is integrated with planned WarnerMedia streaming offerings to reach the broadest audience possible and make full use of its content, he added.

HBO “cannot rely on the old ways of doing things and hope that being a premium channel will bail you out,” he said.

“Game of Thrones,” which debuted in 2011, has flourished despite the confounding number of small-screen choices. From its first-season average weekly tally of 9.3 million cumulative viewers, the series rose to a seventh-season high of 32.8 million across all HBO platforms, including the channel itself and streaming services HBO Go and HBO Now and over a period extending 30 days beyond the season’s end.

It benefited from the devoted following for Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” clutch of novels. It was richly and painstakingly produced, filmed in 10 countries including Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Morocco, Iceland and Canada. Its appealing cast became household names, and the female characters that grew in stature and strength as the drama unfolded are routinely namechecked as part of the female-empowerment zeitgeist.

“Game of Thrones” could boast of its Emmy dominance as well, with 47 trophies to date including three best drama series awards. Last year, it denied a second consecutive win to a worthy opponent, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but HBO itself lost valuable Emmy bragging rights: It was surpassed in total nominations for the first time in 17 years and by relative newcomer Netflix, and the streamer tied HBO in wins.

Analyst Gerbrandt, of Media Valuation Partners, isn’t counting the channel out. Many viewers still like so-called “curated” TV delivered to them, as opposed to searching online through dozens or hundreds of offerings, he said. There’s also the power of perception at work.

“If there’s a brand that survives strictly on name, it’s probably HBO,” he said.

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Science & Health
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WHO: Number of Measles Cases Increasing Sharply Worldwide

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first three months of the year compared to last year, the World Health Organization reported Monday.

The United Nations agency, citing preliminary data, said that more than 112,000 cases of the preventable but highly contagious disease have been reported across the globe in the January-to-March period.

WHO called for better vaccination coverage against measles, which can kill or leave a child disabled for life.

Over recent months, WHO said spikes in the disease have occurred “in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States … as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.”

“While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend,” WHO said. “Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases.”

The agency said the reported number of cases often lags behind the number of actual cases, meaning that the number of documented cases likely does not reflect the actual severity of the measles outbreaks.

For three weeks in a row, U.S. health authorities have added dozens of new reports of measles to its yearly total, now at 555, the biggest figure in five years. Twenty of the 50 U.S. states have now reported measles cases.

More than half of the U.S. total — 285 cases — have been reported in New York City. Officials in the country’s largest city last week ordered mandatory measles vaccinations to halt the outbreak that has been concentrated among ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city’s Brooklyn borough.

City health department officials blamed anti-vaccine propagandists for distributing misinformation in the community.

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